Between my father’s unfortunate example and the fact that I have the good fortune to do something for a living that I love, I’ve become something of a workaholic—but not a degenerate one. It took long enough, but experience has finally taught me the value of doing nothing in particular. Not only does leisure recharge my creative batteries, but it is, as Josef Pieper reminds us, good in and of itself: “Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for non-activity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture—and ourselves.”
I wish I’d learned that lesson sooner, but I’m so glad I know it now that I feel no need to repine. To sit in a rocking chair on the back porch of a beach bungalow, alternately reading and looking out at the Gulf of Mexico: that is heaven. It reminds me of something Dr. Johnson said to Boswell: “If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman.” I’d most likely spend mine on Sanibel Island with Mrs. T, who is both pretty and excellent company.
Ah, for the (occasionally) leisurely snowbird’s life we led! The weather in New York, to be sure, has been unseasonably mild so far this year, but that makes no difference to Mrs. T, for she’s been in New York-Presbyterian Hospital since mid-December, and she doesn’t even have a window through which to view from a distance the snow-free streets of upper Manhattan. Her plight reminds me, unlikely as it may sound, of what Hannibal Lecter says to Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs when she remarks on the precise detail of the drawing of Florence that is taped on the wall of his cell: “Did you do it from memory, all the detail?” “Memory, Officer Starling, is what I have instead of a view.”
On the other hand, the memories we have are wonderful, and they are also comforting (up to a point, Lord Copper!). Most comforting of all, though, is our shared hope that once the Big Call comes and Mrs. T is fitted out with a new pair of lungs, we’ll be able to return in due course to Sanibel, Siesta Key, and Winter Park, there to retrace our steps and revel once again in the uncomplicated pleasures of winter in south Florida.
We need that hope, in some ways more than ever. It struck me the other day that ever since Mrs. T went into the hospital, our life has come to resemble Groundhog Day, an endless succession of repeat performances. In my case, I get up in the morning and spend the day writing or running errands. Unless I have a show to see, I then pick up something enticing for Mrs. T to eat and head for the hospital, where we hold hands, watch a movie or two, and talk about nothing in particular. Then I go home and go to bed, and the next day I do it all over again. I am, like Bill Murray, stuck on hold, the only difference being that I know what has happened to me—and that, sooner or later, it will end.
In the meantime, we’re clinging to our memories, but we’re also doing our best to get what’s to be gotten out of the slow-moving present. That’s easier some days than others, but it’s always possible. Lest we forget, Phil Connors, Murray’s character, breaks the fathomless spell and sets time moving again when, at film’s end, he accepts that which is and says to Andie MacDowell, “No matter what happens tomorrow, and for the rest of my life, I’m happy now, because I love you.”
To know that, of course, won’t necessarily get us back to Sanibel Island—only fate and the doctors can do that—but it will make more tolerable whatever lies ahead for us, now and until our shared clock starts ticking once more.
* * *
It occurs to me that I should update you on Mrs. T’s condition, and this seems like a good time to do it.
She was moved back to the ICU last week when her oxygen saturation level began to drop for no obvious reason. It wasn’t a crisis, merely a matter for concern, but the doctors all agreed that it would be prudent to move her to a unit where she could be monitored more closely. She remains fairly stable as of today—indeed, we haven’t had to weather any major crises for more than a month.
Beyond her inexplicably low oxygen numbers, Mrs. T’s biggest problem at present is severe anorexia, which is, we’re told the combined result of her drug regimen and the continuing need for the around-the-clock high-flow supplemental oxygen that will likely keep her in the hospital until she is transplanted (you can’t get it at home). Fortunately, a “cocktail” of appetite-stimulating medications has got her eating again, and she’s even gained back a little weight in recent days, though she still has a long way to go.
If you follow me in the social media, you know that we got a Big Call last Thursday morning, our first one since August. Alas, it was a dry run—the donor lungs didn’t pan out—but it did serve as a welcome reminder that Mrs. T is still at the top of the transplant list. May another donor offer come soon, this one with a happier ending.
* * *
“Perpetual Anticipation,” a number from Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music,sung by members of the original 1973 cast:
A scene from Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day: